I just got an email from my former institution’s IT department notifying me that all files stored in their cloud storage platform would be migrating to Google Drive over Spring Break. Just as the birds migrate to warmer climes, so do my files move to a more user-friendly and familiar platform. Home terrain. Comfort zone. Frustration free. Ah, Google.
I wonder what files of mine still exist on that institutional storage platform, as I long ago lost the login information and never bothered to reclaim it. I wonder too about those digital traces that I’ve left elsewhere, at another university several thousand miles away. Like the imprint of the self left on the skin of the city by the psychogeographer, urban wanderer, Woolfian seeker of pencils, a deCerteau-ian trace, I’ve left indentations in the digital fabric. The migration notification sparked me to think about how a move from a clunky, password protected, educational platform, upon which I’ve left files I don’t much worry over, to a streamlined, accessible platform where I’ve already got a presence, signals not only the importance of critically engaging with the intersections between the digital and human experiences of it, but also an implicit desire to de-silo the digital world, especially the world of the university. This seems like a really good thing. But, it also begs this question: if we all migrate to Google, learn and use its tools, build things with its platforms and resources, what does that imply about the future of our digital choices or lack thereof? Does de-siloing the flow of information within a university and into the world at large make sense? In broader terms, will migrating to Google mean losing an autonomous, creative, and independent focus on developing tools for DH research and pedagogy? What do the developers think?
It seems now is a pretty good time for digital humanists to return to some of the questions David M. Berry writes about in his 2011 essay, “The Computational Turn: Thinking about the Digital Humanities.” He suggests that a third wave of digital humanities might engage with getting truly collaborative and dismantling the hierarchy of knowledge dissemination and acquisition provided by the brick and mortar university. This new mode of thinking through the way information is remixed and remediated within born-digital environments should provide us (the humans) an opportunity to slow down and make space for pedagogical change and interdisciplinary collaboration.
[R]easoning could shift to a more conceptual or communicative method of reasoning, for example, by bringing together comparative and communicative analysis from different disciplinary perspectives, and by knowing how to use technology to achieve a usable result – a rolling process of reflexive thinking and collaborative rethinking. Relying on technology in a more radically decentred way, depending on technical devices to fill in the blanks in our minds and to connect knowledge in new ways, would change our understanding of knowledge, wisdom and intelligence itself. (10)
How do we reconcile “de-centering” and “de-siloing”? As we continue to immerse ourselves both in creating born-digital content and thinking about how it alters our learning and collaborative possibilities on an every day level, let’s also be mindful about how we can engage the digital humanities to rethink persistent categories within, assumptions about, traditions, and expectations of higher learning.
Google University, anyone?